Constraints on the timescale of animal evolutionary history

Mike J Benton, Philip C J Donoghue, Robert J. Asher, Matt Friedman, Thomas J. Near, Jakob Vinther

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

154 Citations (Scopus)
86 Downloads (Pure)


Dating the tree of life is a core endeavor in evolutionary biology. Rates of evolution are fundamental to nearly every evolutionary model and process. Rates need dates. There is much debate on the most appropriate and reasonable ways in which to date the tree of life, and recent work has highlighted some confusions and complexities that can be avoided. Whether phylogenetic trees are dated after they have been established, or as part of the process of tree finding, practitioners need to know which calibrations to use. We emphasize the importance of identifying crown (not stem) fossils, levels of confidence in their attribution to the crown, current chronostratigraphic precision, the primacy of the host geological formation and asymmetric confidence intervals. Here we present calibrations for 88 key nodes across the phylogeny of animals, ranging from the root of Metazoa to the last common ancestor of Homo sapiens. Close attention to detail is constantly required: for example, the classic bird-mammal date (base of crown Amniota) has often been given as 310-315 Ma; the 2014 international time scale indicates a minimum age of 318 Ma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-107
Number of pages107
JournalPalaeontologia Electronica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 07/12/2014


  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Calibration
  • Mammals
  • Metazoa
  • Phylogeny


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